Never again - Golding orders hijacking probe - Government of Jamaica tackles airport security

Published: Tuesday | April 21, 2009

Janet Silvera, Senior Gleaner Writer

Soldiers (partly hidden) stand near the hijacked CanJet 737 as it sits on the tarmac at the airport in Montego Bay, St James, yesterday. - AP


Prime Minister Bruce Golding says a repeat of Sunday night's hijacking of a Canadian charter flight at the Sangster International Airport is not likely as the Government takes on a more integral role in airport security.

Owing to the fact the Montego Bay-based airport is privately run, governments over the years have not been actively involved in the facility's day-to-day operation, in particular security, and on many occasions, only a few police personnel are on duty at the police post.

However, the serious breach which allowed armed 21-year-old Stephen Fray to force his way through airport security, hijacking a Canadian charter flight destined for Halifax, Canada, with around 160 passengers on-board, has served as a wake-up call.

Indirectly addressing the country's international partners and those with whom Jamaica has bilateral air-service agreements, Golding, at a press conference yesterday, assured the nation that he ordered the transport and works ministry to instruct the Civil Aviation Authority and the Airports Authority of Jamaica to commence an investi-gation into the circumstances under which the security arrangements at Sangster International were breached.

Unblemished record

"We have an unblemished record of airline safety. We have never had anything of its kind in Jamaica before and it is a record that must be preserved," Golding stressed during a press conference at the Montego Bay airport.

Among the concerns the authorities will be probing is how Fray was able to barge through security checkpoints with a gun and then enter the aeroplane before anyone could stop him, the prime minister said.

Golding went further, stating that effective immediately the Govern-ment would not just show "an interest", but now has the responsibility to ensure that the airport security continues to operate at an international level.

Jamaica is compliant with international civil aviation organisation standards and recom-mended practices.

Sangster International, which is operated by MBJ Airports Limited, is also in compliance with national regulations and the National Civil Aviation Security Programme .

"In fairness to the island's airports, they have been managed effectively in terms of these types of implications," Golding said.

However, criticism has come from several quarters that both the Ministry of National Security andWorks over the years have neglected to deploy armed uniformed and plainclothes law-enforcement officers at the security checkpoints at both international airports to complement the regular port-security personnel who are unarmed.

Port-security officers are mandated to screen people entering the restricted areas. And even though there are armed narcotics officers at the airport, they are not dedicated to the same cause. In fact, they are not stationed at the checkpoints continuously and would probably not be able to assist during eventualities, such as what took place on Sunday night.

In the meantime, Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who attended the press conference, praised the successful handling of the situation involving the visitors from his country.

Harper, who is in Jamaica on a three-day working visit, com-mended the personal bravery and professionalism of all involved.

"This is simply a day of great gratitude, and how delighted we are at how it has turned out," he said in referring to the capture of the hijacker, who was overpowered by a joint police-military operation on-board the aircraft at approxi-mately 6:30 a.m. yesterday.


Prime Minister Bruce Golding:

(Security forces must be recognised for the) tremendous show of good judgement, professionalism and for the excellent way they confronted a challenge, which resulted in not one ounce of blood being shed.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper:

We really are tremendously grateful for the outcome of today's (Monday) events. What could have been a terrible tragedy turned into a tremendous triumph for the professionalism and competence of the Jamaican security forces.

Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller:

I must commend the security forces and all involved for the way they handled the matter.

Minister of Transport and Works Mike Henry:

I commend the members of the security forces who, acting in the highest professional manner, succeeded in taking the perpetrator into custody without loss of life or injury to anyone.

Peter Bunting, opposition spokesman on national security:

The handling of the situation by members of the security forces confirms that, when given the proper resources and training, they can be compared among the best in the world.

The Jamaica Chamber of Commerce:

Wishes to commend the Jamaican authorities for the speed and decisiveness with which they moved to neutralise the airline hijacking incident.

Dr Denzil Douglas, prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis and chairman of the Regional Security System:

I think this tells us that there is much work that we have to do in the Caribbean with regard to our security.